I’ve been back in DC for almost two weeks, and it has been a mixed bag of wonderful, painful, and bizarre.
I’ll start with the wonderful: quiet. Moving from Spanish Harlem to “Mt. Vernon Triangle” (which I contend is a made-up name for the neighborhood just north of Chinatown) has allowed my ears the best rest from music blaring from cars ripping down the street and people who feel the need to scream randomly while they’re just outside my window. I slept so soundly our first few nights, I didn’t even realize that I still had boxes to unpack. That’s peace, baby.
At the same time, our neighborhood is actually quite lively. It’s a gentrified enclave (and we didn’t help gentrify it like we did Spanish Harlem – “Mt. Vernon Triangle” was that way already, starting maybe seven or eight years ago) with lots of restaurants and bars, so there’s lots of things to do, or at least to eat and drink. But it’s still so quiet, so it’s the perfect combination!
Now, the painful: last Sunday, the week before Christmas, my spouse and I went to our old church in the morning, then went to brunch. When we got home, I was really sleepy, so I took a nap on the couch, and upon waking, had the WORST migraine in the history of the world. I’ve had headaches before, but I don’t know what the hell that was. I couldn’t even eat the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup my spouse prepped for me because the kitchen light was too bright and made me nauseous. I still felt headachy the next day, and unstable the next day, leading me to think I had a concussion (I’d bumped my head pretty hard in NY, on the day we left). It took another day or two for me to feel like myself. This was definitely not the way I imagined starting off my new life in DC.
Which leads us to the bizarre: DC changed a lot in the past four years (#thanksObama). While many of the changes are good (the city has gotten safer, better lit, etc), real estate prices are unacceptably high and the amount of development is utterly ridiculous. We drove past the Southwest Wharf, where you could see the Potomac from the street and, though the neighborhood was a little run down, it was beautiful; now, three massive apartment/condo buildings are under construction that will block any pre-existing aquatic views.
This is definitely not the DC I fell in love with in March 2002, when I visited with my 11th grade class. For the past week, I’ve struggled with feelings that I no longer belong in my home, my Washington, DC. I’m now a writer, a profession that’s a dime-a-dozen in New York but makes me different here. I don’t work for an NGO, solving the world’s problems. I don’t work for a company that does consulting for the federal government. I don’t work for the federal government. I tell stories, namely my own, in memoir, and I feel like an oddball. To make matters worse, my spouse and I are Black in a city that’s increasingly less so; diversity is definitely going out the window with each new apartment building that goes up. And we can’t afford to rent an apartment in the neighborhoods we used to hang out in because we refuse to spend that much on rent (though that was definitely the same in NY).
So, basically, the city I love has evolved. When my spouse and I chose to move back, it implied that we would go with that evolution. I, of all people, know that sometimes, love changes, and that can be good thing, as long as everyone involved becomes better. I was definitely prepared to embrace DC’s changes before I got here, but actually being here has made me hesitant. Maybe the excruciating pain from the migraine scared me: I wondered if it was some sort of omen. But I keep telling myself not to be afraid. “Just enjoy the peace and quiet, and make your city home again.”